The front of Saturday’s 1,000-strong North East London Council of Action demonstration in Enfield against the closure of Chase Farm Hospital
The front of Saturday’s 1,000-strong North East London Council of Action demonstration in Enfield against the closure of Chase Farm Hospital

‘CHASE FARM Hospital is occupied,’ Bill Rogers, Secretary of the North East London Council of Action, told News Line, speaking inside the hospital at the end of a one thousand-strong march through Enfield in north London on Saturday afternoon.

‘All other closure-threatened hospitals, fire stations, factories, work places, schools, should be occupied.

‘It’s the only way.

‘The march was a great success, a terrific march.

‘I  would just like to point out that during the march six blue light emergency vehicles passed us, five of them ambulances going to Chase Farm.

‘It just shows how busy the A&E department is at Chase Farm.’

Saturday’s magnificent march was supported by hundreds of local residents and trade unionists, many of whom spoke to News Line as they assembled at the War Memorial.

Kathy Collins said: ‘We live the other side of Enfield and are here to protect our hospital and stop its closure.

‘There will be lives lost when this happens, if it happens.

‘Someone I know, an old lady of 87, was left sitting for hours and then transferred to Romford because there was no bed. How can they cope with the overflow? We have to keep it open.

‘I support occupying and I will occupy.’

Kathy’s husband, Pat Collins said: ‘I support occupying too. The government seem to do what they like. They must be stopped.’

Mark Hurn, a librarian and Unite member, said: ‘I’ve come down from Cambridge in solidarity.

‘I want to stress, the NHS is a national service and everyone should be concerned about every hospital and support the service wherever they are and wherever they can get to.

‘Where I live they are cutting the GP service by 2.8% each year and this is in an area where they are building new houses and new families are moving in.

‘How is the NHS supposed to cope?

‘I support occupations and urge people who work in the workplace to support them.

‘A general strike is on the way. The cuts are really beginning to hit now and people who previously may have been reluctant to go on strike are up for it.’

John Burgess, Enfield resident and Secretary of Barnet Local Government Unison, said: ‘I’m here from Barnet Unison because of the outrageous proposals to downgrade, in fact to remove, a major hospital in our community.

‘It was in the Barnet press yesterday that if an agreement with the Royal Free falls through then Chase Farm Hospital could close altogether, or be handed over to a private company.

‘We were originally coming on today’s march because of the A&E and Maternity issue, but now we hear this!

‘I’m busy fighting the mass privatisation campaign in Barnet Council, with all the services being prepped and packaged up for outsourcing.

‘There’s no such thing as a council service anymore. They’ve been renamed “service delivery units”.

‘It’s the commoditisation, or marketisation, of public services.

‘In our borough we’ve had the occupation of Friern Library to stop closure.

‘It’s an exceptional example of community activism which has been built by the trade union movement and local residents and we need to do that in Enfield.

‘Speaking as a local resident, I fully understand and support the defence of local services, which proves successful through the occupation of public buildings.’

Miss Joyce said: ‘I’m a singer and I live in Edmonton.

‘They shouldn’t touch Chase Farm at all, it’s the best hospital in the world.

‘The mental health section is brilliant, the A&E is vital, the maternity is fantastic – I’ve had all three of my children there.

‘What people don’t realise is, Chase Farm is exceptional. Whether you are a stranger or a local, you’re treated with immense respect.’

Edith Corlis, from Lewisham, said: ‘I’ve come because I want to support all hospitals. They are needed.

‘I was on the march to defend Lewisham Hospital last Saturday.

‘I believe in occupying hospitals, we need to stop the closures.

‘I am so angry that they have announced the closure of Lewisham Hospital.

‘We have to occupy, we have to go in there.’

Then the march set off.

There were constant chants of: ‘No Cuts, No Closures, Save Chase Farm! Defend Every Job, Save Chase Farm! No Hospital Closures, Occupy Now! Save Chase Farm, Occupy Now! Defend the NHS, Kick This Government Out!’

The march was led by the banner of the North East London Council of Action, which read: ‘Defend the NHS By All Means Necessary! Save Chase Farm!’

The next banner was ‘Maternity Chase Farm Hospital. Job4Life Jobs4Lives. Save Our Maternity Unit!’

Then came the ‘Chase Farm Hospital NHS’ banner, followed by the Barnet Local Government Unison  banner, the Camden Unison banner and the Barnet Alliance for Public Services banner.

The Ex-Visteon Workers banner slogan was ‘Support the Fight to Keep Chase Farm Hospital Open!  

The Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition banner read: ‘Don’t make a Casualty of our NHS!’

Then came the Enfield Young Socialists banner which read: ‘Occupy Chase Farm’, followed by hundreds of ‘Save Chase Farm’ flags.

Steve Cook, from the steering committee of the Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition, told News Line: ‘We beat an attempt three years ago to close the Whittington A&E.

‘Now they are trying to flog off half the entire hospital.

‘We are here to show our solidarity with the Chase Farm struggle.

‘An attack on any part of the NHS is an attack on the whole NHS.

‘I absolutely support occupying.’

Sabine Bowling, an RCN member from Lewisham Hospital, said: ‘Our demonstration at Lewisham last week was really strong, but they still announced the closure. We have to stop all closures.’

Kelly Alle from Enfield Young Socialists, who was carrying the Enfield YS banner, said: ‘I believe in occupying.

‘We don’t expect the government to change its mind, but we don’t accept what they do.

‘They are sacking workers at the hospital.

‘If we don’t stop them there will be no future.

‘What will they do next, close schools? No! We’ve got to get rid of this government.

‘I’m an 18-year-old student, I go to college and I invite all students to support this fight.

‘We have to fight now. Nothing is going to change in the future, so we have to fight immediately, now!’

George Binette, Branch Secretary of Camden Unison, said: ‘I’m here in solidarity with the people fighting to save their local hospital.

‘We desperately need to stop the cuts in the health service and the rapid drive to privatise all sections of it.

‘We need a national campaign, demonstrations and national action.

‘When a workplace, including a hospital, is faced with closure, occupation seems to be the best way of stopping it, the best available tactic.

‘I’d be in favour of a general strike.’

Tirza Waisel, coordinator of Barnet Alliance for Public Services, said: ‘We are working closely with Occupy in the case of the Friern Barnet Library, where there has been a successful occupation.

‘Occupying is definitely a very effective tool.

‘We support the fight for Chase Farm. It serves Enfield and making Enfield residents travel to Barnet is ludicrous.

‘We would like the North East London Council of Action to come to our demonstration on 23rd March.

‘Barnet is a flagship for the government for extreme outsourcing.

‘In Barnet they’re going to privatise 70%-90% of council services.

‘If they get away with it they will roll it out in every other part of the country.’

Ex-Visteon worker Mario Bonifante said: ‘We occupied when Visteon closed down and that was the best thing we ever did.

‘We are here today to stop the closure of Chase Farm, which has been my local hospital for the whole of my life.

‘It is a prime location, so close to where so many people live.

‘In an emergency they advocate acting fast – in the case of a stroke for instance.

‘But how can you act fast if your hospital is closed?

‘I will support the occupation of Chase Farm, definitely and I hope the local people will support us as well.’

Enfield resident Avril Lively said: ‘I will support occupation, enough is enough.

‘They are building so many houses in Enfield, we need Chase Farm more than ever.

‘My daughter had meningitis and they treated her at Chase Farm, she had five or six doctors, they were absolutely fantastic. Within a couple of days she was on the mend.

‘But a doctor told me afterwards, if she had had to go to Barnet she might have died. It was the worst day of my life.

‘How can they close this hospital?

‘I work in a surgery and we are so overcrowded. There are three new sites locally where they are building loads of new homes. We need our hospital more than ever.’

Alexandra Read, a 25-year-old Enfield resident, said: ‘There must be no cuts in the A&E department or maternity ward.

‘Unfortunately I had to use the A&E last year because I was attacked by a dog quite badly.

‘I had to stay overnight and they did the best they could with me, brilliant.

‘I will support occupying, definitely.’

Her friend, Tilly-Ann Martin, also 25, said: ‘I was born in Chase Farm.

‘Nine years ago my Dad passed away. He got to Chase Farm. They couldn’t save him, but the care he got there was brilliant, I couldn’t fault it.

‘I’ll support occupying all the way.’

Sue Fitzgerald, midwife and RCM member at Chase Farm, said: ‘This is a great march, we must win. The Maternity, Gynaecology and A&E must be maintained.

‘The staff are very worried about their future and the welfare of the patients.’

The march arrived at the hospital and proceeded straight into the grounds and up to the main entrance of the hospital at the Clock Tower.

A banner was swiftly unfurled: ‘North East London Council of Action. Clock Tower under Occupation to Keep Services Running’.

Bill Rogers spoke on the megaphone: ‘We have been campaigning for six years against the closure of this hospital. The Patient Liaison is shut already. It has been reported that the hospital is dangerously short of staff. The Eye Clinic is closed. 600 administration staff have been told to reapply for their jobs. 350 will lose their jobs.

‘We’re going to carry out our occupation. We’re going to occupy.’

A call was made for volunteers to register to man the occupation. Marchers flooded forward to sign up.

BMA member Anna Athow said: ‘I’m recently a retired doctor from North Middlesex Hospital. We have to keep all our services.

‘They are planning to close more than 10 District General Hospitals in London and 60 nationally. Occupying is needed.’

Then local singer Miss Joyce sang a beautiful song and received warm applause.

She said: ‘This is a brilliant hospital. We can’t let it close.’

Sue Fitzgerald, from Chase Farm Maternity, said: ‘So many women have used Chase Farm, for generations. It’s very safe here, a wonderful service and we don’t want to lose it.’

Ex-Visteon worker Mario Bonifante said: ‘It’s time for action.

‘This is a great hospital. I’ve had four hip replacements here.

‘Support the occupation. Let’s do it. Together we can do it.’

Steve Cook, from the Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition, said: ‘The NHS is our birthright.

‘We’re not going to let this government take it away from us.’

Kate Wilkinson, from the Save Chase Farm campaign, said: ‘Ten years ago they said they wanted to close Chase Farm. We are still here.

‘They said they would improve services at other hospitals, but this was just talk. Chase Farm is needed more than ever.’

Pat Bidpath from Barnet told News Line: ‘I think the break-up of the NHS is a criminal activity.

‘Occupation is the only way. We have to take control, this is our NHS.’

Memet, aged 21, from Enfield, said: ‘If they are trying to close our hospital we have to stop them. I am going to participate in the occupation.’

Peter Gray said: ‘I’m 44-years an Enfield resident. I’ve signed up to take part  in the occupation. It is the only way to stop them.

‘This shows the way for other areas. All hospitals under threat of closure should be occupied.’